If you read all of the media stories, listen to the radio shows, and pay attention to the general buzz in the air, the notion about this week’s contest in Dowdy Ficklen between ECU and UNC-CH, it is expected that it will be a shootout. Better bet the over… (I’d be rich already this week if I received a buck for every friend or foe that I have heard say or text or email that line to me).
In short, despite a pretty heady effort against the 17th ranked Hokies, the UNC-CH crowd is convinced that the Pirates defense is sidebar story…a nonfactor. They believe that their offense will be in a track meet with ECU’s offense and that the Pirates defense will not have a say in the outcome. I am not sure – beyond typical arrogance (remember as Tar Heels safety Tim Scott said on camera, ECU is beneath us…) – what this mindset is based on, but either way, this game is an opportunity for the Pirates defensive players – to a man – to remind them that the Pirates play some pretty good D, too.
While I do expect the ECU offense to score a lot of points on a highly suspect North Carolina defense that gave up monster yards against both Liberty and SDSU, I am curious how the ECU defensive players feel about the assumption that they will not be able to contain the UNC-CH offense. What is this based on? Through three games, the Pirates defense hardly looks like a sieve. Let’s check the numbers after having played two Top-20 teams back-to-back. ECU’s defense is currently ranked:
- 33rd in Passing Efficiency Defense
- 34th in Total Defense
- 34th in Rushing Defense
- 38th in Red Zone Defense
- 42nd in Scoring Defense
Not bad at all considering that we have played an SEC power (in a tight loss) and an ACC power (in a win). Statistically, the numbers stand to get much better as we go forward, but even to-date this unit has fared pretty well. Considering that they faded in the USC game late in the third and into the 4th quarter, it seems that we are somewhat thin and are perhaps susceptible to being worn down, but the notion that ECU’s defense is a non-factor this Saturday seems a little out of place. Considering that UNC-CH’s offense (currently ranked 93rd in Total O) is not exactly a juggernaut. They were losing 22-21 to Liberty University (the same Liberty team that gave up 31 points to Brevard this past week) before Marquise Williams picked up the pace. Statistically, they fared well putting up 443 yards of offense, generating 49 points (defense had a pick 6) but didn’t exactly dominate the Flames. Then, with a SDSU team traveling across country this past weekend for a night game in Chapel Hill, the UNC O managed 24 points (defense had a 100 yard pick 6) to come from behind to be the Aztecs, who by the by put up more than 100 yards MORE than the UNC offense (which also gained a full quarter of its yards on a single 91 yard pass play) in this game and really had the better of Tar Heels in the game. And, Williams has thrown 3 INTs already this season. These are not the hallmarks of a vaunted offense, effective runner at QB or not.
By these measures, it is really, IMO, another slap in the face to the ECU defense by the media who are predicting a shoot out. I hope our defensive players feel the same way.
From a match-up perspective…the ECU D really appears pretty well-built for this opponent. Starting up front where a veteran defensive line will take on a young UNC OL. Terry Williams completely dominated the interior of the line of scrimmage against Virginia Tech and there is little doubt that the VPI linemen are more talented and then the UNC-CH crew. Johnathon White, Fred Presley, Dmitri McGill, and Chrishon Rose were all stout against the run as well over the last week.
One of UNC’s strengths is the fact that their QB is mobile and will turn good coverage into an opportunity to hurt a team with his legs. Fortunately, one of the biggest assets in the ECU D is its speed at linebacker, particularly on the outside and with Zeek Bigger and Brandon Williams providing speed and quick read ability inside, if we spy Williams some, we should be able to contain him. Plus, our tackling has been pretty good at all three levels in the defense, not to mention that to the man, we have a team full of hitters.
So this effort then shifts to our secondary. The secondary has looked athletic, fast, and aggressive so far through 3 games, but still do show signs of overplaying coverages. Our aggressiveness hurt us against VPI for their final two scores as our young guys jump short routes and were burned by double moves while defending the red zone…a big no-no which we can all bet that DC Rick Smith has already used as teaching moment.
Certainly UNC-CH will try to pass a lot on us taking advantage of the super fast Ryan Switzer and the rangy Quinshad Davis in space, but our defensive strength at the LOS and our speed should allow for the D to register enough stops to let Shane Carden and crew do their thing. It would be nice if we could ratchet up the turnovers this week, which would certainly go towards a less stressful game on Saturday.